Magazine article Artforum International

Albert Oehlen

Magazine article Artforum International

Albert Oehlen

Article excerpt

In Albert Oehlen's recent show--six canvases displayed along with three "computer drawings" that read as commentaries on the paintings--fans of conceptual abstraction are made as much a butt of his biting humor as the German public was in earlier work, which at times employed fascist imagery to probe German attitudes toward the past. Oehlen's conceptual strategies are mordant and aggressive, but also convoluted. Expressionism has for some time been his primary target as well as his weapon of choice; but he goes far beyond merely exposing the impossibility of any kind of complete expression.

Indeed, Oehlen's visual quotations are anything but arch. Unlike many other contemporary painters, his conceptual strategies do not serve to disguise an expressive content that some of us might balk at swallowing unmediated. Part of the irony is that the paintings, with their haphazard drips and jokey, extended forms, manufacture a kind of faux Surrealism; they seem, in particular, to mimic the specious brand of automatic drawing seen in the work of George Condo and Lydia Dona, whose efforts--while more idea-oriented than expressive--are far less sophisticated than Oehlen's depressive analyses of the "meaning" of painting. His silkscreened black-on-white "drawings," on the other hand, with their apparently computer-generated scrawls, loops, and areas of shading, mock his own faux gesturalism in these paintings, underlining his analytic subtext by simulating (in the style of a computer printout) even the patterns of the fabric that he sometimes paints over. …

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